Thursday, 15 December 2016

Planet Earth II

I've kept quiet about this one. Left it on the backburner. But I can't refrain any longer.

Planet Earth II, the BBC's flagship natural documentary series of 2016, is the sequel to the original Planet Earth series, first broadcast in 2006. The photos in this post can be found on the BBC webpage for the programme here.

This time around, there have been six episodes, each one covering a different habitat: Islands; Mountains; Jungles; Deserts; Grasslands; and Cities. And each one exquisitely filmed, featuring a world of wonderful natural history and presented by the incomparable Sir David Attenborough. The behind-the-scenes technology was amazing, allowing the lives of the animal subjects to be captured in minute and intricate detail: the panoramic landscape vistas; the aerial shots of thronging herds of creatures; and the back stories of the camera teams. It has all been so absolutely fantastic.

I didn't like it. There, I've said it. Even after six weeks, I can't explain why, but it just feels like a missed opportunity.

Sure, we know more now than we did in October. Everyone went nuts with horror at the racer snakes hunting down the just-emerged iguanas. Without ever wondering what the snakes got up to for the other 51 weeks of the year.

How we chuckled at the bears scratching their itches on tree trunks (to some suitably 'funny' music). Though I will admit that I pondered whether this behaviour was the basis for the Baloo the Bear scratching scene in The Jungle Book.

We marvelled at the rare, at the exotic, and at the mind-bogglingly numerous.

But do we now care more about the environment? Would we heave our wonder-filled bodies up off the sofa and actually go outside and stand up for nature? Are we even aware of which species are facing the most severe threats of extinction, across the globe, on our continent, within the borders of our own countries, on our doorsteps?

Probably not.

And that's what irks me most. We slaver over the footage, voyeuristically entertained by story lines that verge upon the anthropomorphic. We endow predator/prey relationships with evil/good scenarios that just aren't there. It's a glossy magazine of faunal porn, and we lap it up.

For instance, take the Pygmy three-toed sloth (pictured above). It opened the series at the beginning of the Islands programme, a male searching for a mate. He swam between two small islands, following the call of a receptive female, but only found a female who already had a baby (and so wouldn't be ready to mate). As the forlorn denouement approached, the 'playing-hard-to-get' female called again, the camera panned across an idyllic scene of paradisiacal exoticness and Sir D intoned "At least she can't be far away."

That's because Pygmy three-toed sloths are endemic to the Isla Escudo de Veraguas, a tiny habitat of 1.7 square miles of tropical island off the coast of Panama. Nothing is very far away, let alone a vanishingly rare lady sloth with salacious urges to postpone extinction for at least one more generation.

What a wonderful opportunity to expand upon a little island biogeography, yet sadly missed.

Week after week, habitat after habitat, it was gorgeous viewing but agonisingly light on ecological imperatives. It's probably time to add my sanity to the Critically Endangered list.


holdingmoments said...

I think you missed the point of the programme.

Surely it was to show the beauty of the wildlife that inhabits this planet?
Yes, a lot of it is being wiped out very quickly by the human race and it can be viewed every minute in all its gory details on social media. Mankind is killing this planet and its inhabitants ............. ALL its inhabitants.
The programme was about the beauty of this planet.
It should spur any reasonable person to take action to keep it that way.
It's far too easy to criticise; much harder to take action.

Imperfect and Tense said...

I think what I was trying to say, in my wrong-headed way, is that the point of the programme should have been different. I do wish that it didn't have to be different, so that, yes, we can all just enjoy the bounteous beauty of the natural world, but sadly it ain't so.

The ten minute segments at the end of each programme could've been used to highlight the ecological implications of the week's chosen habitat upon its residents. Admittedly, this would be dropped anyway when the programme is sold to a commercial broadcaster, but it would have put the information out there. Or why not have an off-shoot programme for the behind the scenes stuff and some science around the ecological issues?

Yes, it was a wondrous series. The filming was superb. But it could've done more to inform.

Mark said...

Ido just love it when someone has a point of view, even if I dont necessarily agree with it. It's the same in music, Pink Floyds Final Cut; the Roger Waters albums or even the Clash! Actually my poemblog8 has ruffled a few feathers! Im keeping my head just below the parapet, but only just aaaaaaaaaarrgh!

Imperfect and Tense said...

Er... don't get me started on The Final Cut.

Spadger said...

And on a different note, you have a typo!!! Ah gasp!??? Well sort of typo in that you missed two words in brackets at the end of this sentence:
'......presented by the incomparable Sir David Attenborough.'

Imperfect and Tense said...

Sorry, JD, you've lost me. I can't get my brain in gear this morning. Though I have corrected an error two sentences later.

Spadger said...

(aka God)

Imperfect and Tense said...